Blog: The Truss Team

As the new prime minister chairs her first Cabinet meeting, we take a look at how the latest people around the table on the UK’s ministerial merry-go-round may impact infrastructure delivery

Prime Minister - Liz Truss

Sources in government suggest they are expecting much of the same in terms of infrastructure policy from the new leader, with one suggesting she could be seen as “Boris Johnson Mark II”. 

Her speech in front of Number 10 following her appointment hinted at her likely commitment to infrastructure development, too, with references to getting “spades in the ground” and ensuring her government builds “hospitals, schools, roads, and broadband”. She added: “We need to build roads, homes and broadband faster.”

However, core to her pitch for the top job over the summer was a commitment to cut taxes as a way to help ease the cost of living crisis - and some economists think her plans could cost the exchequer as much as £90bn. 

So the question will be how to square that gaping hole in the public finances with an apparent desire to continue Boris Johnson’s ‘build back better’ mantra. The answer could be through increased private investment - and some of Truss’s key appointments may also hint at that approach.

Deputy PM & Health Secretary - Therese Coffey

Known as a close friend and ally of Truss, Coffey was previously Secretary of the Department of Work & Pensions under Boris Johnson.

In her first interview in her new role, she told the BBC’s Today programme that she had a lot to get on with - including the building of new hospitals. Johnson’s administration had pledged to build 40 new hospitals, which was part of the Conservative manifesto at the last election. However, that had been watered down post-election, with talk of refurbishments and extensions rather than 40 brand new hospitals.

Even with that more watered down approach, experts have suggested that there would not be the money in the public purse to deliver on that promise, and there has been a belief among some in the industry that private finance will be required at some point to plug the gap. 

When pushed on the PM’s views on private firms running NHS hospitals, Coffey told Today that she would be focused on using all means to help tackle the backlog, potentially leaving the door ajar for more private involvement.

Chancellor of the Exchequer - Kwasi Kwarteng

The former Business Secretary may prove to be a supporter of the infrastructure industry. During his time as energy minister, Kwarteng spoke at Partnerships Bulletin’s UK Partnerships Hub conference in December 2020, where he said he was keen for private sector organisations to discuss new project ideas with him.

Kwarteng has long seemed open to using the private sector to deliver new infrastructure across the country, and has become a strong supporter of the UK Infrastructure Bank. Earlier in his career, before the bank was established, Kwarteng had raised questions over whether such an institution was needed as a replacement for the European Investment Bank (EIB), but has since recognised the benefits that the bank can offer to provide targeted support to “very specific projects”.

Business & Energy Secretary - Jacob Rees-Mogg

The former minister for Brexit opportunities was a staunch ally of Boris Johnson and his loyalty to the cause sees him promoted under Truss.

During his time at the Cabinet Office, the experience of those involved in the infrastructure sector appears to have been positive, with sources suggesting that he understood the importance of driving private finance to deliver new projects. Furthermore, despite unveiling plans to significantly cut civil service spending, he continued to allow the Infrastructure & Projects Authority to recruit as it looks to beef up its team for PFI expiry and handback.

However, the contradiction for the industry is that Ress-Mogg is known to be somewhat sceptical of renewable energy, having previously suggested investment in North Sea gas extraction should take priority over building new wind turbines or solar farms. Given that the previous administration’s plans had centred squarely on building renewable infrastructure, it remains to be seen whether that enthusiasm is translated within the business and energy department under Ress-Mogg’s leadership.

When asked on the Today programme about Ress-Mogg’s less than enthusiastic views on green energy, Climate Change Committee chair Lord Deben chose instead to focus on Graham Stuart, who has been appointed Minister for Climate within the business department, but who will attend Cabinet. Lord Deben said Stuart had a long track record in supporting renewable energy initiatives and was optimistic about the new minister’s willingness to target renewable energy investment.

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary - Simon Clarke

Former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke returns to a ministry where he was a minister of state from February 2020.

Clarke is known to be a fan of regeneration, and has previously been in favour of projects that have seen private investment in schemes to redevelop and regenerate areas. This included the reopening and expansion of Teesside International Airport in his constituency.

It will be hoped that Clarke is able to push the agenda of private sector-supported regeneration as a way to help boost growth across the country, while also fitting in with Truss’s focus on reduced exchequer spending.

Transport Secretary - Anne-Marie Trevelyan

Trevelyan arrives at the transport department after a string of appointments in other departments. 

Having been elected MP in 2015, since 2019 she has had roles in the ministries of defence, international development, energy and international trade.

In her new role, Trevelyan will have an important task in implementing the reforms that were planned and introduced for the railways by her predecessor, Grant Shapps. However, infrastructure issues may be pushed lower down her in-tray, as she faces continued issues around striking rail workers, and the problems of lower fares still affecting firms in the post-pandemic world.

To that end, one of the last actions of Shapps before he left office was to agree a longer term settlement for Transport for London (TfL), which included money for the rehabilitation of Hammersmith Bridge - a scheme that is to be partly delivered through a PPP.